• Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Title

Up like smoke

I was on a campus recently, not too far from where I live. (One of the advantages of being in the northeast is that there are lots of colleges and universities nearby.) I had been on the same campus before, but this time I was looking at some of the academic space with not a parent's eye nor a student's eye, but with a sustainability administrator's eye. It was beautiful, in a kind of pre-first-Great-Depression institutional way. But it was too tall.

April 2, 2009
 
 

I was on a campus recently, not too far from where I live. (One of the advantages of being in the northeast is that there are lots of colleges and universities nearby.) I had been on the same campus before, but this time I was looking at some of the academic space with not a parent's eye nor a student's eye, but with a sustainability administrator's eye. It was beautiful, in a kind of pre-first-Great-Depression institutional way. But it was too tall.

Not the buildings themselves, necessarily, but the larger spaces within them. Foyers, atria, sweeping staircases going up three, even four floors. Ceilings so high that the eye doesn't even engage them. Heat chimneys.

When I lived down in the land of Real Summer, high ceilings (not necessarily three-story-high ceilings) were a good thing. The heat rose, so any ground-level breeze had more of a cooling effect. Staircases and the like were large and open for much the same reason.

Now I live in the land of Real Winter, and my old farmhouse has a single stairway with a door at the bottom. Closing the door keeps the heat in the occupied portion of the house on cold winter days. The ceilings are lower, as well.

The academic architecture of the gilded age, then, is poorly suited to energy efficiency in the northern USA. Big open spaces, which connect all the corridors and hallways throughout the building, tend to eliminate many pragmatic energy management techniques. You can't divide a large building into smaller heating zones for the purpose of concentrating heat in only the occupied zones, if most of the space in the building is an undivided (and undividable (prime?)) whole.

How have other universities with similar-aged buildings dealt with this issue? I can visualize plexiglas panels creating vertical and/or horizontal divisions while still letting the style of the building peek through. But I'm not an architect. And, if I were to suggest such a defamation of these grand old piles to someone who is, I doubt I'd get a warm reception. Unless, of course, I made my suggestion on the fourth floor. (That's where the heat collects.)

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